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Cheap Irons Buying Guide

Our research into the best cheap clothes irons set the price ceiling at $40 and turned up several models that are feature-rich, easy to use, and leave your clothing wrinkle-free. Our picks for best cheap clothes iron are the T-Fal Ultraglide Easycord FV4379 (starting at $40) and the Black & Decker F67E Classic (starting at $25) -- the former because it heats up quickly, has lots of holes for lots of steam, and boasts a large water tank; the latter because it's a no-frills model just like mom's that gets really hot and gets the job done.

As runners-up we like the T-Fal Prima FV3056 (starting at $25) and Panasonic NI-S300TR (starting at $23) for their overall value and plentiful steam output. Two cheap irons that don't make the grade are the Smartek Cord/Cordless ST2000 (starting at $29), which is hard to dock in its base and loses heat rapidly in cordless mode, and the Shark Professional Rapido G1468 (starting at $30), which seems plagued by a variety of build quality problems.

As ironers surely know, the most critical features in an iron are the production of heat and steam and the size of the water tank. To make a lot of steam, you need a lot of heat. On the whole, higher-priced irons heat up faster, reach the very high temperatures (about 400 degrees) needed to iron wrinkles out of cotton, and have more holes through which steam emerges. Upscale models usually have 1500-1700 watts of power, compared to the 1200 or so common among cheap irons. Heat matters because if it's too low, there's a higher possibility of leakage, the bane of every ironer because leaking water can stain fabric. Large quantities of steam come from large quantities of water, so if you want lots of steam, it helps if the water tank is big, easy to refill, and easy to gauge the water level. More important than anything else, though, is the ease with which an iron does its job - the better it works, the less muscle power you'll exert. This is partly dependent on the weight of the iron. If it's heavy enough, it will press out wrinkles, but an iron that's too heavy is uncomfortable to use for any length of time.

The basic features found on cheap irons are more or less standard across models. In fact, the better budget irons now incorporate many features once reserved for upscale irons. For example, most cheap irons have a "burst of steam" that quickly sets creases and can be used a vertical steamer. They typically provide some sort of guide indicating the heat and steam required for various fabrics. The soleplate (the bottom of the iron) is almost always described as "non-stick" regardless of its composition -- often stainless steel, although aluminum, ceramic, titanium, and Teflon also make their appearance on inexpensive irons. Automatic shut-off is found all through the price spectrum. Some cheap irons feature a retractable cord and the occasional cordless iron shows up at the low-price end of the market. Most steam irons take ordinary tap water (except if you live in an area with extremely hard water, in which case you should use distilled water), and some feature a self-cleaning setting that flushes out any build-up.

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The cheap irons universe is dominated by T-Fal, Black & Decker, Panasonic, Sunbeam, and Hamilton Beach. Each of these brands offers a range of products with varied features, although sometimes it's hard to discern the difference between models from the same manufacturer. When you start shopping for a cheap iron, bear in mind your ironing profile; that is, the type of fabrics you iron most frequently. For example, you'll need a heavier iron with more heat and more steam if you work with a lot of denim rather than synthetic fabrics. If you iron a lot of clothing at once, you'll want a water tank that holds more than a cup; tank size won't matter so much if you only iron one or two items at a time.

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